REGION —You won’t see the word “gentrification” on many North County city council agendas. But a panel of community activists argued at a Sept. 11 forum that the process undergirds almost all of the development in the region.
Convened by Palomar MEChA, a Palomar College Latinx student activist organization which is part of a national network, the panel featured voices from groups such as People Over Profits-San Diego, Human Rights Council of Oceanside and San Diego Tenants Union. Daisy Zavala, an Escondido-based student at Palomar College who helped organize the panel for MEChA, said that the idea behind hosting the panel came from the group’s activism earlier this year in San Diego’s Barrio Logan.
“The Chicano Art Gallery was being closed over the summer due to the landlords raising the rent and so we decided to go and show our support, being that the Chicano Art Gallery was one of the last autonomous art galleries that was for Chicanxs by Chicanxs in Barrio Logan,” said Zavala. “That was where the topic piqued our interest. We looked into the issue more and we saw that gentrification wasn’t just something that happened in San Diego/Logan, it was happening in our own communities here in North County San Diego and was threatening our communities and community members.”
The Urban Displacement Project, a partnership between researchers at UCLA, UC-Berkeley and Portland State University, describes gentrification as “neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood — by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in — as well as demographic change — not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.”
Julie Corrales, who spoke on the panel representing People Over Profits-San Diego, said that gentrification seldom receives mention when area political leaders and regulatory officials discuss the region’s housing crisis. She said she believes it should.
“You can have gentrification without the housing crisis, and it’s happened in a lot of cities where the whole city is not affected,” said Corrales. “But California has a housing crisis for a lot of reasons and so they’re coupling displacement and gentrification with the housing crisis. And they’re saying, ‘Oh, it’s expensive for everybody, so we have to pass all these laws to let people build.’”
As an example, Corrales pointed to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and its emphasis on “transit-oriented development” for constructing high-density housing.
“Where are all the transit hubs? In the hood,” said Corrales, in answering her own question. “Where’s the trolley? In the hood. What does that mean? They’re going to come in and build and clear it for private developers. Private developers aren’t going to build what we need, they’re going to build apartments that are expensive and then that pushes the rent up all around us.”
Paola Ilescas, an activist with the group Human Rights Council of Oceanside, said she believes gentrification is propelled by seemingly mundane zoning laws. She also called zoning an undemocratic practice which often promotes “profit over people.”
MEChA’s Zavala brought it back local. She said that she believes gentrification is happening in San Marcos, which houses Palomar College.
“We are definitely concerned with luxury housing in the area of San Marcos that can drive up rents, especially for students who have to live here due to school,” she said. “We try to encourage our members to attend city council meetings and planning commissions to voice their concerns in their cities as well and to get informed about what their city is doing in order to help low-income community members and hold city officials accountable.”
According to Zavala, Palomar MEChA has about 15 regularly participating and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year at an Oct. 18 event. She added that in November, the organization will play co-host — alongside the student organization Transitions Collective — to discuss the issue of mass incarceration.